Reading Melville at Sea: Chapter 11-13

Chapter 11

Ishmael falls in love with Queequeg, whom he calls “a real friend.” 

Chapter 12:

Ishmael may be in a biracial relationship but he is still a racist.

Ishmael recounts the biographical history that Queequeg gave him, and uses rather offensive terms, and I can’t make up my mind about them.  What is Melville intending to do by having Ishmael describe his friend as a “new-hatched savage” or a “fine young savage, this sea Prince of Wales”?  The story reminds strongly of Aphra Behn’s Oronooko.jpg

Oronooko, which Melville must have read.  Like the prince of that tale, Queequeg is born a chieftain and comes to the New World.  Unlike Oronooko, Queequeg is not sold into slavery, but like him he feels stained or besmirched by the treacherous and wicked ways of the Christians he encounters.  Queequeg, like Oronooko, is “noble savage,” an exalted figure imagined to be outside of civilization, a creature of nature at the top of his or her species’ food chain, a noble beast, like a lion or a elephant.  He may have good manners, but he is still an animal. 

Chapter 13:

More Complicated Racial Commentary

Queequeg and Ishmael leave the Spouter Inn carrying their things in a wheelbarrow, and the people stare at the sight of a White Christian and a non-White Pagan “upon such confidential terms…as though a white man were anything more dignified than a whitewashed negro.”

Melville is clearly challenging the racial assumptions of his society, but he doesn’t seem to go so far.  What does he mean by “whitewashed negro”?  I’m sure I don’t know.

Queequeg teaches one of the “boobies and bumpkins” a lesson about respect, and the White coward brays to the captain of a nearby ship.  The captain takes the White boobie’s side, but is soon distracted by his boom, which has come unlashed and sweeps the boobie overboard.  Queequeg masters the boom and save the bumpkin from drowning.


Author: Kimberly Latta, Ph.D.

Psychotherapist, writer, artist, and independent feminist scholar.

Please leave us a comment, but if you are not logged in please leave your first name in the comment, so we know who you are.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s